Trump stain likely to dog officials' post-administration job prospects

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In normal times it would go to the top of anyone’s curriculum vitae or résumé. Serving in the White House has typically been a passport to a lucrative job on a corporate board, in the lobbying industry or at a prestigious Washington thinktank.

But alumni of Donald Trump’s administration could be in for a rude awakening. The outgoing president proved so disruptive and divisive that those perceived to have been his enablers may find themselves given the cold shoulder as they seek alternative employment.

“Those people will carry this stain with them for the rest of their lives,” said Moe Vela, a former senior adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden. “The further we get away from his tenure, the more historians, political scientists, political operatives and just history itself will uncover, reveal and continue to demonstrate just how corrupt this was. And as that continues, the stain will only grow darker and larger.”

Presidential transitions can be brutal affairs. Officials who have become accustomed to working at America’s most famous address, weighing in on economic and national security issues that reverberate around the world, suddenly find themselves cast out into the cold of Washington after the inauguration of the new president-elect on a bleak January day.

But there is usually a support network in place, including nearby K Street, the home of political lobbying firms, and an array of thinktanks in the capital and beyond. Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state under President George W Bush, is now director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, which also gave safe harbour to Trump alumni Jim Mattis and HR McMaster.

White House press secretaries can prosper in the media or corporate world. Jay Carney, who was Barack Obama’s spokesman from 2011 to 2014, is a senior vice-president and head of public relations for Amazon. His successor, Josh Earnest, who had a spell as an NBC News and MSNBC analyst, is now senior vice-president and chief communications officer at United Airlines.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump may find their roles as senior White House advisers do not open doors for them back in New York. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

But Kayleigh McEnany, who currently occupies the podium, may find such work harder to come by. She has been an unapologetic defender of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and false claims of election rigging as well as a fierce critic of the press. Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter at CNN, wondered recently: “Has McEnany ever provided the press any useful info at one of these supposed briefings? It’s hard to remember any real news that was broken or offered at these events.”

McEnany may seek to follow in the footsteps of Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer, now a host on the conservative TV channel Newsmax. She already regularly appears on Fox News and could formalise the arrangement. (Spicer’s successor, Sarah Sanders, published a memoir and is rumoured to be planning a run for governor of her home state, Arkansas.)

But for others, the future is harder to discern. The president’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner, also a senior adviser, are said to be persona non grata in New York, where they might have hoped to resume their old lives. As an alternative, Ivanka is reported to be considering a run for a Senate seat in Florida.

Ben Carson, the housing secretary, has told confidants that he wants to start a thinktank, the Axios website reported. Carson “wants to start an organization that will promote Trump’s policies and foster bipartisan dialogue, a source in his inner circle told Axios”.

Sean Spicer in his new role as host on the pro-Trump Newsmax network, with Lyndsay Keith. Photograph: AP

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser who pushed Trump’s hardline immigration policies and efforts to overturn the election, is unlikely to thrive in Joe Biden’s Washington, a staunchly Democratic city. The then homeland secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, was booed, heckled and greeted with chants of “shame!” and “end family separation” at a Mexican restaurant in 2018.

Vela commented: “I don’t think there will be anywhere in the United States, or anywhere around the world, that the more high-profile, recognisable ones will be able to ever go again where they will not be met with some semblance of resistance, at least for the foreseeable future.”

Expressing the hostility towards Miller felt by many, Vela, an entrepreneur and LGBTQ and Latino activist, added: “Frankly, he is so vile that, unless he rehabilitates or has some redemptive situation, I don’t understand the contribution he makes to the human family.”

There are some possible refuges in Washington. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank that has hosted speeches by Trump officials and endorsers, and the Federalist Society, hugely influential in the president’s appointment of more than 200 conservative judges, could look favourably on those who stayed loyal to the bitter end.

But Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, which worked to secure Trump’s election defeat, warned that his aides and accomplices will now be stigmatised far and wide. “It’s going to be a very unique difference from the traditional idea that you worked at the White House and you ended up with a fabulous set of jobs ahead of you,” he said.

“It was always a trade-off for going into any administration that you would get credentials and experience and a career uplift. This is probably going to have exactly the opposite outcome from what anybody else expected. Nobody came out of this covered in glory. They came out of it looking beaten and corrupt and humiliated and ashamed, so this is a very different scenario from any prior administration.”

Adviser Stephen Miller, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, and chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on the south lawn of the White House. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Wilson added: “No corporate board is going to say, ‘Oh, hey, I need a Trump administration person on the board’, unless it’s MyPillow guy [Mike Lindell, an ardent Trump supporter]. I really don’t see it as the benefit to one’s career that it has traditionally been perceived as.”

In the past, departing officials could potentially fall back on a previous career. After serving in Bill Clinton’s White House from 1993 to 1997, Elaine Kamarck returned to academia by joining the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“My guess is that Donald Trump will create some sort of political organisation, using all the money that he’s been raising by alleging that the election was stolen, and that operation will employ some of the people,” she said. “I think the kids will probably go back into trying to salvage the business empire.

“Some of them may have political aspirations themselves, but I don’t see many of the close-in Trump people becoming lobbyists because Trump never had good relations with Congress and they certainly don’t. I don’t see them going into thinktanks because there’s no scholars among them.”

Kamarck, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, added: “Look, Donald Trump didn’t have a normal presidency so it’s not going to be a normal post-presidency either.”